Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Fantasy World of Radical Islamists

Iraq Pundit treats us to his latest commentary regarding Iraq. It’s titled Jazeeraland
Bin Laden's statements used to be followed by a chorus of Western terror "experts" who pronounced his timing "exquisite," his message carefully honed, etc. He's still manna to the quaking cable networks, of course, but the days of the admiring reviews seem to be over. When OBL tried to intervene in the last U.S. presidential election, nobody could agree on just what he was trying to tell the American electorate. If anything, he helped get Bush re-elected. Last time he spoke, he offered the West a truce. The West flipped him off.

This time around, Richard Clarke told one network that OBL "seems to have been reduced to being a commentator on Islamic news." For someone as sensitive to mass perceptions of who is a "strong horse" and who is a "weak horse," his equine decline must rankle him.

Naturally, I was most interested in OBL's comments about Iraq. Who, OBL asks, is the real criminal in Iraq? His answer is that the true crimes were the sanctions that harmed Iraqi civilians even as Saddam got richer. OBL was also deeply disturbed at stories about the use of depleted uranium. His heart bled copiously at the "propaganda campaigns" that he says have "attacked" the Iraqi population. These, says OBL, are acts of malice.

As for those attacks by car bombs that have ripped apart the bodies of so many Iraqi men, women, and children, he forgot to bring them up. That murderers acting in his name and with his approval have specifically targeted little kids, markets filled with women, places filled with mourners and with wedding guests, all that was too trivial to mention. OBL keeps his eye on the big picture. He's out to save Islam, no matter how many Muslims he has to murder in the process.
The latest hard fought round of political progress in Iraq is a good sign that the pro-democracy forces are winning the war on terror, even if complete victory might be decades away. Let's hope more Arabs and Muslims around the world look to the way the Iraqi political leadership dealt with their political disagreements and reject the "Osama model" of political "dialogue."

Monday, April 24, 2006

China Update - The Mid-Term Threat

The way I see it, the United States faces four threats from foreign entities. From near term to long term, they are:

1) Islamic Terrorism

2) Iranian nuclear weapons

3) China

4) An increasingly Islamic Europe

That last one may be a bit surprising to some people, but the fact is that if current demographic and political trends continue, there will be a seriously large, and fortunately radical Islamic, element in Europe by mid-century. The Islamists could well gain enough political power in Europe to present us with a military threat. Kinda out there, I know, but not outside the realm of reason.

China Threat Update

China is a threat to us because they are determined to take control of Taiwan. Although they would like to do so peacefully, they could decide to use force if peaceful means fail, or if certain events occur, such as the government of Taiwan declaring itself independant of the mainland.

The United States will come to the aid of Taiwan no matter who is president, for historical, political, and moral reasons.

Assume that for whatever reason, China decides that they need to use force to gain political control of Taiwan. What exactly will they do?

The Foreigner in Formasa
links to an article in The Weekly Standard by Christian Lowe that summarizes a Rand Corporation study that poses four actions, or "counter-transformation options", that China might take to defeat or deter the US military.

Following are Lowe's summaries of the four options identified in the Rand study and my comments on each
* Conventional Modernization "Plus": A defense strategy marked by further purchase and development of submarines, aircraft, space weapons, and anti-ship missiles "to strike at perceived U.S. vulnerabilities." The study suggests this is the most likely strategy for China to adopt, largely because of the availability of sophisticated Soviet-bloc weaponry. To counter this the American military needs to boost its defensive training and continue developing anti-missile and anti-sub countermeasures.
Although this is their mostly likely strategy, it is also, I believe, the one least likely to lead to success. To be sure, China is building up it's military at a pace that would astound the uninformed. Further, they've done it without much fanfare, and it has caught our intelligence agencies by surprise. As I wrote in War with China: 2008 - 2010?, the problem China faces is that while their capabilities are growing arithmatically(2, 4, 6, 8), ours are growing exponentially(2, 4, 8, 16). Chinese military analysists watched US capabilities grow from the 1991 Gulf War to OIF in 2003, and what they saw worried them. Even worse, the US is slated to bring several new high-tech weapons systems on-line by the end of this decade, such as the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 JSF, and Virginia class submarines. Even the newest Russian technology will be a generation or two behind these systems.

More to the point, a fight on the high seas plays to US strengths. We got very good at this during World War II, and had fifty years worth of planning to do it again against the Soviet Union. Despite all the hoopla, the PLAN is not yet a threat, and may well be a paper tiger.
* Subversion, Sabotage, and Information Operations: An offensive strategy that aims to scare the population of Taiwan into believing it has no option but capitulation. This, coupled with computer network attacks to cripple U.S. logistics, could "delay U.S. intervention long enough to allow information operations and other coercion against Taiwan to have the desired affect." Rand researches suggest increased training for American logistics forces without the use of computer networks to simulate a potential attack and work through it.
This would certainly be in keeping with the great Chinese theoretician Sun-Tsu, whos 6th-century BC work The Art of War remains a classic of military theory. He emphasized just such things as subterfuge, believing that the best way to defeat an enemy was to attack his weak points, not to attack him head-on, as option #1 would entail.

The disadvantage of this approach is that I wonder of the Taiwanese population is as weak as would be required for this method to work. It is highly time-dependant, and therefore more risky. Further, US planners are well aware of our vulnerability to computer attack, and just as with a fight on the high-seas, computers are our specialty.
* Missile-Centric Strategies: Continue the development and deployment of conventional ballistic and cruise missiles to overwhelm Taiwan at strategic points and deny U.S. forces' defense in depth. This approach attacks "weak points in the enemy rear, denies the U.S. military the ability to use regional bases (Guam for example) as sanctuaries, changes the dynamics in the early stages of a conflict and provides an effective response to strategic attacks by American conventional forces." In response, the American military might have to create even more missiles and missile defenses to counter Chinese threats, change its basic strategy to confront China "to render irrelevant the capabilities of the missile forces," or even pull back from a potential conflict.
I've always thought that this would be the strategy that China would employ. Missile defense will not be able to stop more than a handful of attacks in the near-future, and China has hundreds of short-range conventially-armed missiles aimed at Taiwan. This, coupled with the announcement of a naval blockade, might frighten the Taiwanese population into the acceptance of a polically-acceptable "solution".
* "Network-Centric Warfare" strategy: A Pentagon-invented term, network-centric warfare (NCW) envisions weapons systems and sensors tied together with a computerized network of communications and intelligence gear that will give a commander a wider and deeper view of the battlefield. It would allow for rapid and complex decision-making in combat, helping to overwhelm an adversary's ability to react. China's development of similar technology and operational concepts could threaten America's major military advantage and put some of its most important assets--such as aircraft carriers--at great risk. But the Rand researchers admit China is a long way from matching the United States in this kind of complex technical challenge.
I haven't read the Rand Corporation study (you have to purchase it), but rather doubt that China is capable of challenging us in this field. I remember that before the 1991 Gulf War the newspapers were full of articles that compared US and Iraqi weapons. On paper, it looked about even, with the US holding perhaps a slight edge. Of course, the way it played out, we might as well have been fighting a 19th-century force. Dittos for the invasion of Iraq in March and April of 2003.

The reason we were so successful in both operations had less to do with our weapons than how we "put it all together." Now is not the place for a complete discussion of topics such as C4ISTAR and "network-centric warfare", but suffice it to say that these are not exactly the strong points of a military just now entering the 1980s technology-wise.

The Bottom Line

All this having been said, Lowe says that "the (Rand) study paints an alarming picture of Chinese military progress and a dogged focus on countering American military advances." However, we have one major advangage; people.
"Ironically, a confrontation between two technologically advanced, network-centric militaries willlikely reduce the importance of technology in favor of people and their ability to make rapid but accurate decisions with incomplete or overwhelming amounts of information," Rand notes. "In such a contest, volunteer military personnel drawn from an open, educated society like that of the United States would appear to have the advantage over a stove-piped military embedded in an authoritarian state. But the blinding pace of social, cultural and technological change in China strongly suggests that this conclusion will not always remain true."
. Not to sound condescending, but the Chinese threat is not on most people's radar screens now. It ought to be.